The Best DVDs of 2009

[7 January 2010]

By PopMatters Staff


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Crank 2: High Voltage

Director: Neveldine/Taylor
Cast: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Efren Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam, Reno Wilson, Clifton Collins, Jr.

20

Crank 2: High Voltage
Lionsgate

The pixie-stick cinematics of directing duo Neveldine/Taylor may cram in your craw like the nonstop ramblings of a skate rat adolescent with ADD, but when the results are as ridiculously resplendent as this demented sequel, who really care? Taking the ‘should be dead’ Chev Chelios (Jason Statham’s best… role… ever) and giving him an artificial heart that needs jolting every few minutes is a masterstroke of narrative guise. It allows the pair to do anything, including riffs on Godzilla and public acts of pornography, to illustrate their volt quest strategies. In a different world, were outright chutzpah is championed over grace and subtlety, these two would be Kubrick, Hitchcock, and Spielberg combined. On our planet, they’re just plain nuts! Bill Gibron

 


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My Dinner with Jimi

Director: Bill Fishman
Cast: Justin Henry, Jason Boggs, Royale Watkins, John Corbett, George Wendt, Curtis Armstrong

19

My Dinner with Jimi
Micro Werks

Though this film originally appeared a few years ago, it didn’t see DVD release until mid 2009. I can’t imagine why such a thoroughly entertaining, expertly cast and completely madcap re-enactment of a pivotal moment in music history was withheld from a wider audience for that long, but I’m so pleased we can have access to it now. My Dinner with Jimi is composed of Howard Kaylan’s memories from one spectacular summer night in the Swinging London of 1967, in which he met the Beatles, Donavan, Graham Nash, Brian Jones, and Hendrix himself. It’s lovingly, endearingly told, but also authentically set in its time and place. And did I mention it’s uproariously funny? It is. Hilarious! Wonderfully, gleefully, snorting-through-the-nose hilarious! Christel Loar

 


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Jeeves and Wooster: The Complete Series

(BBC)

18

Jeeves and Wooster: The Complete Series
A&E Home Video

P.G. Wodehouse’s fantastic characters, Jeeves and Wooster, plus Stephen Fry’s and Hugh Laurie’s fabulous characterizations of them, are what make Jeeves and Wooster episodes so entertaining, so enduring, so eminently re-watchable. Somehow, no matter how often you view them (and I do view them often), these stories never grow stale, the dialogue doesn’t fall flat, the inherent joviality is evergreen… the mirth springs eternal. The fact that Jeeves and Wooster: The Complete Series provides almost 20 hours of preposterous predicaments, farcical faces and verbal volleys from these connoisseurs of comic form in one convenient DVD set is simply a tremendous bonus to what is already a treasure trove of comic gems. Christel Loar

 


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The Last Horror Film: The Tromasterpiece Collection

Director: David Winters
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro

17

The Last Horror Film: The Tromasterpiece Collection
Troma

Had he lived to see the group grope perspective of the Internet, Joe Spinell would most likely have hundreds of fan pages dedicated to his brilliance, cinematic e-scholarship focused on finding ways of getting his name out among the new breed. In truth, he’s today nothing more than a relic of a twisted time in movie macabre, nothing more than your standard Maniac. Luckily Troma has salvaged his sensational turn in this amazing lost fright film oddity. Even though he’s no longer around to enjoy it, with this truly disturbing star turn, the man’s legitimacy and legacy are secured. Bill Gibron

 


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Farscape: The Complete Series

(Sci-Fi Channel)

16

Farscape: The Complete Series
A&E Home Video

Farscape has had a tortured history on DVD, previously available on two different editions, the first among the most expensive DVD sets in the history of the format, the second slightly less costly, but available only briefly. One of the most critically adored sci-fi series ever, Farscape tells the story of American astronaut John Crichton, who becomes stranded on the other side of the galaxy on the living spaceship Moya, along with a small group of escaped prisoners, all of whom like Dorothy are trying to get back home. Although the show was a space opera in the grand tradition, the heart of the series was the epic love story between John and alien hottie Aeryn Sun. Season Three routinely makes lists of the greatest individual seasons in the history of television. Robert Moore

 

15 - 11


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Zabriskie Point

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Cast: Mark Frenchette, Daria Halprin, Paul Fix, G.D. Spradlin, Rod Taylor

15

Zabriskie Point
Warner Home Video

It is often said that foreign filmmakers do a far better job of capturing the American zeitgeist, no matter the era, than their US counterparts. A perfect example of this proverb arrives in the form of Zabriskie Point. You will not see a better distillation of the entire 1960s and everything it stood for - good, bad, indifferent, insightful—than this uncompromising artistic overview. As a modernist, a moviemaker noted for his disconnected ideals and luxuriant long takes, Antonioni was still capable of contravening expectations. This movie illustrates that perfectly. It may not always succeed, but when it does, it’s more than magical. It’s meaningful. Bill Gibron

 


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Ally McBeal: The Complete Series

(Fox)

14

Ally McBeal: The Complete Series
Fox

One of the DVD miracles of 2009 was the long desired release of Ally McBeal, one of TV’s greatest and strangest series, with – and this is the heart of the miracle –all of the original music. No series prior to Glee and Eli Stone ever had music so deeply integrated into the core of the show and securing the rights for all of it delayed the release of the DVDs for years. David E. Kelly’s quirky masterpiece was a genuine original that combined comedy, romance, fantasy, and court room drama to create a show that had no predecessors. It is also one of the TV series most deeply analyzed by academics and no series except for Buffy has been as passionately embraced by feminist critics. For most of the past decade it reigned as the series that most demanded release on DVD, a crown it now cedes, perhaps, to Malcolm in the Middle. Robert Moore

 


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Up

Cast: Edward Asner, Christopher Plumber, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo

13

Up
Walt Disney Home Entertainment

It’s called Up because—well, because what? Because it’s about a desperate old man who ties a couple hundred balloons to his house and embarks on a wild childhood dream? Or because it elevates you above and beyond the mundane emotions and colors and constraints of everyday life? I’d say a bit of both; and if you weren’t moved to tears by the poetic, wordless opening montage, and to laughter by the inane banter between a mechanical-voiced dog (“Squirrel!”) and a squawking bird, then I’m not sure I want to know you. And if you haven’t been marveling at Pixar’s imagination and heart—in only three years, they’ve forged sincere emotional bonds with a curmudgeonly food critic, a post-apocalyptic robot, and now a man more crotchety than the cast of Out To Sea—then you just haven’t been paying attention. Zach Schonfeld

 


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[REC]

Director: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Javier Botet, Manuel Bronchud, Martha Carbonell, Claudia Font, Vicente Gil

12

[REC]
Sony Home Entertainment

For one night, a reporter and her cameraman work the grave shift with two firemen. The simple premise of [REC] doesn’t prepare you for the blinding terror that follows. The firemen respond to an emergency call at an old apartment building where a resident has become insanely violent. The crew has unwittingly entered ground zero of a lethal contagion, where a mutation of the rabies virus is now running rampant. The government immediately quarantines the building, trapping the crew and residents inside. The virus spreads exponentially and the infected become savage and cannibalistic. “Keep the camera running,” the reporter tells her cameraman, and they become our guides, like Dante and Virgil. The dark apartment building with its winding staircase becomes a stark vision of Hell, and those trapped inside, the damned. John Grassi

 


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The Mighty Boosh: Special Edition DVD Series 1 - 3

(BBC)

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The Mighty Boosh: Special Edition DVD Series 1 - 3
BBC Video

The Mighty Boosh has everything you could wish for in a television show. It’s got comedy. It has adventure. It has magic and music, mod-wolves and man-ginas. There’s a shaman and a talking moon, there’s a mirror ball suit and a box full of underwater funk. With The Mighty Boosh: Series 1, 2 and 3, you have Yeti cults, flying carpets and coconuts in drag. Want more? There are Grim reapers driving taxis, green Hitchers playing pianos, a gorilla in the kitchen and Gary Numan in the cupboard. You get good guys, bad guys and Bob Fossil. See? The Mighty Boosh has everything, most importantly, it has imagination. Christel Loar

 

10 - 6


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Gone with the Wind: 70th Anniversary Edition

Cast: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel

10

Gone with the Wind: 70th Anniversary Edition
Warner Home Video

Let’s get the initial questions out of the way right up front. Is Gone with the Wind still a great movie? You bet your sweet Southern belle it is. Does it still hold up even after seven decades of cinematic sophistication? Yes, indeed. Is the new box set a treasure trove of intriguing information, from the exhausting casting and preproduction process to the onset spats and post-release reactions? And HOW! If you don’t already own this considered motion picture Mona Lisa, the latest red velvet covered collection will do quite nicely, thank you. It’s so jam packed with added content you’ll feel like you’re getting several films in one package (and in a couple of cases, you are). Bill Gibron

 


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Synecdoche, New York

Director: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis, Emily Watson, Dianne Weist, Tom Noonan

9

Synecdoche, New York
Sony Home Video

You get the sense watching Synecdoche, New York that this—not Eternal Sunshine, not Being John Malkovich, but this—is the film Charlie Kaufman has waited his whole career to make. I like to place it in some alternate arc of cinematic history that includes Barry Lyndon, Raging Bull, and, more recently, There Will Be Blood—character studies so singularly obsessed with their subject as to reflect his ambition, his existential dread, but most of all, his doomed, all-pervasive egotism. Is that the ultimate catch-22? Buoyed by Seymour Hoffman’s career-defining performance, Kaufman paints a portrait of the artist as a desperate man: Caden Cotard strives to make something “big and true and tough. You know, finally put my real self into something.” At least one of them succeeded. Zach Schonfeld

 


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The Wrestler

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Ernest “The Cat” Miller

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The Wrestler
Fox Searchlight

A lead actor whose real-life career has seen better days plays a professional wrestler whose career has seen better days. The film is grounded in extraordinary performances by Mickey Rourke as Randy the Ram, a former star wrestler who has failed to achieve any form of success outside the ring, and Marisa Tomei as an aging stripper with whom he is in love. Few films have raised more powerfully the dilemma of what you do to live after everything that has defined your life has slipped away. Rourke is so convincing as the broken down but unbending Randy that the film is sometimes hard to watch, even while you come to love and pull for the guy. The unexpected highpoint of Rourke’s career as an actor. Robert Moore

 


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The Ultimate Cut: Watchmen - The Complete Story

Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Jakie Earle Haley, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Goode

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The Ultimate Cut: Watchmen - The Complete Story
Warner Home Video

Will the real motion picture version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen please stand up? In the span of eight short months we’ve had the official theatrical release of Zach Snyder’s genius take on the title, as well as an extended Director’s Cut DVD and Blu-ray which provided more character context and clarity to what was already a masterpiece, and now a well-timed four disc release which offers what Warner Brothers is calling the “Ultimate Cut”. It’s all so confusing. No matter, though, since what was already a great movie is yet again made even better by the inclusion of even more context. Bill Gibron

 


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Mad Men: Season 2

(AMC)

6

Mad Men: Season 2
Lionsgate

Set in the early 1960s, the Sterling Cooper ad agency is a whiskey-fueled, profit-driven circus. Marketing executive Don Draper has an uncanny gift for manipulating basic human desires with a 30-second advertisement. “It’s how a product makes you feel,” Draper tells a client. “Romantic love? We invented it.“ Draper christens a Kodak slide projector as “the Carousel, taking us back to a place where we ache to go again.” Another ad campaign for Popsicle features two boys splitting the treat in two. “It’s about friendship,” a Draper protégé says. Loneliness, greed, the need for love—human weakness is constantly exploited by corporate power. Draper, a conflicted family man, is ultimately betrayed by his own desires. At its dark core, Mad Men is an epic poem to rapacious capitalism. John Grassi

 

5 - 1


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Blackadder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition

(BBC)

5

Blackadder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition
BBC

Imagine a series that poked gentle fun at American ideals and factual history, all for the sake of a character that is mean, neglectful, incorrigible, cutthroat, bumbling, brazen, devious, shrewd, and on more than one occasion, completely off his nut. That’s Blackadder, in all its wild UK whimsy. Without Rowan Aktinson in the lead it would never work. Though he is usually the butt of the situational joke most of the time, the character (in all its incarnations) remains a significant comedy creation. He’s not just the man you love to hate—he’s the slimebucket you obsess over like a moonstruck school girl. There is just something so amazingly awful, so delightfully despicable about the man that you can’t help but hang on his every wicked wisecrack and/or deed. Bill Gibron

 


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Let the Right One In

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar

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Let the Right One In
Magnolia

Pale, brooding, and cold as ice. Such describes Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an isolated Swedish boy who strikes up an unlikely romance—sort of—with a vampire. But these descriptors also capture the essence of the film itself, its imagery steeped in desolate, snowy landscapes and brutal flashes of carnage. This is no typical vampire fare. Director Tomas Alfredson eschews conventional scares in favor of slow-paced atmospherics; he arrives at a muted sort of Gus Van Sant-style tension (think Elephant, not Milk). The result, whatever it is, simply deserves to be seen on a big screen. At night. In the dead of winter. Zach Schonfeld

 


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The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Burt Lahr, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton

3

The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Warner Home Video

Unlike other mandatory motion pictures declared treasures by time, unclear consensus, and endless obsessive tirades, The Wizard of Oz maintains its long term defensibility for one important reason—it works. It entertains. It soars. It splashes across the screen in big fat sugar frosted hugs and emotionally honest kisses. For nearly two hours, we are whisked away to a world where no one is unloved, everyone is caring, and the dreams of a little girl find their final resting place in a small Kansas farmhouse among family and friends. Who needs winged monkeys when you can discover that there’s no place like home? That’s why The Wizard of Oz endures. That’s why it is one of the greatest films of all time. Bill Gibron

 


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The Prisoner (1968) - The Complete Series: Blu-ray

(ITV)

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The Prisoner (1968) - The Complete Series: Blu-ray


A&E Home Video

With American Movie Classics gearing up to offer an update on this series (starring Passion of the Christ‘s James Caviezel and Ian McKellen), A&E has overseen a painstaking remaster of the original series, complete with a stunning Blu-ray release that brings everything brilliant about this show to dazzling life. The extras packed presentation, including new commentaries, making-of featurettes, character and setting documentaries, and a bevy of bonus background gives the Prisoner fan as much context as they could possibly want. With gorgeous imagery, razor-sharp sound, and a load of exciting content, the new format box set answers a lot of questions about the material… except one. Bill Gibron

 


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Life on Mars: Series 1 & 2

(BBC)

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Life on Mars: Series 1 & 2
Acorn Media

Life on Mars was the best television show of the decade. Not just for its fantastically inventive and intriguing premise, in which a modern police detective wakes up in the year 1973; for its superb writing, which kept characters and viewers on their toes through all manner of plot twists or for its gritty, gorgeous cinematography that made every episode feel like a feature film. It’s not even the best for the performances of John Simm and Philip Glenister, though they were unquestionably brilliant at every turn. No, it was the best because it was a rare show that made it to television with all its creativity—premise, stories, performances, shots—in tact, and so it became something much greater than the sum of its parts. Life on Mars: Series 1 and Series 2 are the best DVDs because they allow us to experience that perfect execution again and again. Christel Loar

 

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/118296-the-best-dvds-of-2009/